Willis Hale, Architect:

1848 - 1907

Willis Gaylord Hale was born in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York. His early academic training was at the Academy of Seneca Falls and Lake Cayuga Academy in Aurora, New York but he ultimately completed his education at Auburn High School in Auburn, New York. Upon graduation, he left for the University of Michigan where he studied briefly before returning to Buffalo and Rochester, New York where he worked as an apprentice. In the mid to late 1860’s, he moved to Philadelphia where he first worked in the office of Samuel Sloan and then, in the 1870’s, in the office of John MacArthur, Jr. He left Philadelphia in early 1873 to work in the private practice of Isaac Perry and E.L. Holmes in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The firm specialized in cast-iron facades, and Hale’s earliest work, September of 1873, can be seen in the design of the cast-iron façade of the Wyoming National Bank. While in Wilkes-Barre, Hale designed several other notable structures, including the Conyngham School in 1874, which the State Superintendent claimed to be the “most perfect in the state” in 1882.

         Hale returned to Philadelphia in 1876 and opened his own firm, a practice that he was to maintain for the rest of his life. On June 23rd, 1876, he also married Augusta M. Cannon, a member of the prestigious family of entrepreneur William Weightman, thus assuring himself both a place in society and a consistent flow of commissions, especially from Philadelphia elite like William Weightman, William Singerly, Peter Widener and William Elkins. His elite status is also evidenced by his wide range of club memberships: the Philadelphia Art Club, the Utopian Club, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the National Free Art League, the Iona Boat Club, the Masonic Fraternity, the Athletic Club of the Schuylkill Navy, the Fairmount Park Association, the FCAIA and the AIA. James Foss explains Hale’s relationship to the elite by saying, “he provided a raw, stylistically pragmatic architecture expressive of a self-confident indvidualism and optimistic commercial expansion” (Foss, 9).

His first projects in Philadelphia were among his more modest and included the John Hopkins Warehouse of 1879 and the Henry Whelen House of 1880. His practice progressed with marked success both the area of architectural design and abundance of projects. He worked on over 115 buildings in Philadelphia alone, which ranged from office buildings and banks, to private mansions and middle-class developments. But perhaps what is most distinctive about Willis Hale is the way in which he chose to represent those structures.

          A follower of the High Victorian Gothic school, Hale was an architect without precedent. He built during the post-civil war era, a time known for its flamboyance, its over-complication and its overwhelming presence. Although he was certainly influenced by his mentors Sloan and MacArthur and his better-know peer, Frank Furness, Hale was an eclectic original. James Foss describes his work as a “preoccupation with coarse surface, effects incorporated without a palpable relation to structure in either a direct or allusive way, but he purposely pushed the more decorative, non-essential elements to the fringes of his design” (Foss, 13).  His peers often saw Hale as a visionary, someone whose work was considered to be “a model of architectural beauty…. [Hale was] unquestionably one of the finest [architects] in this city, where handsome buildings are the rule rather than the exception” (Eaton, 27).

            But the work of Willis Hale is not always received with so much commendation. In his obituary, his final appearance in the public eye, in The American Architect, on September 21st, 1907 the paragraph asks the reader not to judge Hale for the “lack of restraint that marked his work” (AA, 9/21/07). In fact, a series in Architectural Record written by Montgomery Schuyler called “Architectural Aberrations” selected two of Hale’s projects – The Record Building and The Hale Building – for special derision. Among other choice terms, Schuyler refers to these works as “backward and provincial… crude… violent… revolting… ignorant” (AA2, 261), “higgledy-piggledy” (AA9, 208), “absurd… irrational, incongruent and ridiculous” (AA9, 210). Schuyler even goes so far as to say that “every precaution has been taken, and with success, to insure that the building shall lack unity, shall lack harmony, shall lack repose and shall be a restless jumble” (AA9, 210).

            This last impression of the work of Willis Hale is the one that continues to be the most prevalent. There was an almost immediate reaction against eclecticism because it considered to be lacking in truth, and the replacement attitude of Academic Historicism appeared, as it still does today, to embody pure ideals, democratic tenets and an inherent appropriateness of form.

            Willis Hale died in Philadelphia on August 29, 1907 completely penniless and out of favor in the architectural community. His achievements in the field were wholly disregarded and he was seen as a fleeting oddity, who no one would much miss. Unfortunately, public interest has never quite swayed back toward Willis Hale. There is little published information about his life and work and most of his buildings that were not reabsorbed for more modern uses have been torn down. Although his talents are not quite great enough to place him in the class of revolutionary, Willis Gaylord Hale is an innovative architect whose unusual standard of work places him in a category beyond time and strict classification.

 

 

Wyoming National Bank, 1873, Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Wilkes-Barre Architecture: 1860-1960. Vito J. Sgromo and Michael J. Lewis (Wilkes-Barre: Wyoming Historical and Geological Society, 1983)

"Hale's first major local deisgn was for the facade of the Wyoming National Bank. Installed in September of 1873, the four story facade was divided into three bays. Each bay was designed in an individualistic fashion and contains different numbers of window openings. This encyclopedia of architectural style was probably use by Hale to advertise his talents." PHOTO CITATION

Conyngham School, 1874, Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Wilkes-Barre Architecture: 1860-1960. Vito J. Sgromo and Michael J. Lewis (Wilkes-Barre: Wyoming Historical and Geological Society, 1983)

"Hale designed the Conyngham School in 1874 which was pronounced the 'most perfect in the state' by the State Superintendent in 1882."

PHOTO CITATION

Ashley Public School, 1874, Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Courthouse (alterations and additions), 1874, Wilkes-Barre, PA. (competition)

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Residence, 1874, 144 Franklin Street, Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Swoyer Residence (alterations and additions), 1874, Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Edmund Bulter residence, 1875, 151 West River Street, Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Market Street School, 1875, 6th Street, Bloomsburg, PA.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Normal School (alterations and additions), 1875, Bloomsburg, PA.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Roderick's Building, 1875, West Market Street, Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Store, 1875, Bloomsburg, PA.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Volney Maxwell House, 1875, South Franklin Street, Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Warehouse, 1879, 50-54 North Delaware Street, Philadelphia, PA.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985) ADD PHOTO.

Seven 2-story dwellings, 1880, 24th and Thompson Street, Philadelphia, PA.

Willis G. Hale, Architect. Carol Eaton (Seminar in 19th century Architecture, Univeristy of Pennsylvania)

For further information see American Architect and Building News, volume 8, March 13, 1880, p. 112.

8 2-story and 1 3-story dwellings, 1880, no location given. J.L. Caven, client.

Willis G. Hale, Architect. Carol Eaton (Seminar in 19th century Architecture, Univeristy of Pennsylvania)

Home for Incurables, 1880, 48th and Woodland Avenue, Philadelphia, PA. ADD PHOTO.

Willis G. Hale, Architect. Carol Eaton (Seminar in 19th century Architecture, Univeristy of Pennsylvania)

Contemporary description in The Public Ledger, September 25, 1880.

Henry Whelen house, 1880, Bryn Mawr, PA.

Willis G. Hale, Architect. Carol Eaton (Seminar in 19th century Architecture, Univeristy of Pennsylvania)

Mechanics Insurance Company Building, 1881, 5th and Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA.

Willis G. Hale, Architect. Carol Eaton (Seminar in 19th century Architecture, Univeristy of Pennsylvania)

Initial mention in The Public Ledger of July 7, 1881, physical description of building The Public Ledger of August 17th 1881 and formal opening described in The Public Ledger of December 24, 1881.

United Firemen's Insurance Company, 1882, 419 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA. ADD PHOTO.

Willis G. Hale, Architect. Carol Eaton (Seminar in 19th century Architecture, Univeristy of Pennsylvania)

Initial construction mentioned in The Public Ledger of June 17, 1882.

Old Record Building (alterations), 1882, 34th and Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA.

Willis G. Hale, Architect. Carol Eaton (Seminar in 19th century Architecture, Univeristy of Pennsylvania)

25 houses, 1882, 19th and Thompson Street and Graham Street, Philadelphia, PA.

Willis G. Hale, Architect. Carol Eaton (Seminar in 19th century Architecture, Univeristy of Pennsylvania)

Row of 10 Room Houses, 1882, 23rd and 24th and Berks Street and Norris Street, Philadelphia, PA.

Willis G. Hale, Architect. Carol Eaton (Seminar in 19th century Architecture, Univeristy of Pennsylvania)

Early designs are reported in The Public Ledger on August 21, 1882.

45 row houses, 1882, 32nd and Hamilton Street and Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, PA.

Willis G. Hale, Architect. Carol Eaton (Seminar in 19th century Architecture, Univeristy of Pennsylvania)

Early construction is reported in American Architect and Building News, volume 9, June 24, 1882.

Philadelphia Market House and Hall, 1883, 3rd and Norris Street, Philadelphia, PA.

Willis G. Hale, Architect. Carol Eaton (Seminar in 19th century Architecture, Univeristy of Pennsylvania)

Willis G. Hale, Architect. Carol Eaton (Seminar in 19th century Architecture, Univeristy of Pennsylvania)

Construction completion reported in The American Architect and Building News, volume 14, November 10, 1883.

Chapel and Entrance to Mechanic's Cemetary, 1883, 22nd and Diamond Street, Philadelphia, PA.
3 houses, 1884, Kansas City, Missouri. P.E. Emery, client.

Willis G. Hale, Architect. Carol Eaton (Seminar in 19th century Architecture, Univeristy of Pennsylvania)

Independence National Bank, 1884, 919 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA.

Willis G. Hale, Architect. Carol Eaton (Seminar in 19th century Architecture, Univeristy of Pennsylvania)

Construction was reported in The Public Ledger of October 13, 1884 and the final work was published in the American Architect and Building News of 1886.

David Garrison house, 1884, 1164 Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA.

Willis Gaylord Hale and Philadelphia's Rebellion of the Picturesque: 1880-1890. James Foss, Masters Thesis, Penn State University, 1964.

Construction reported in the American Architect and Building News in 1884.

S.M. Bloom residence, 1885, Hagerstown, PA.

Willis Gaylord Hale and Philadelphia's Rebellion of the Picturesque: 1880-1890. James Foss, Masters Thesis, Penn State University, 1964.

Palms Business College, 1886, 1708-1710 Chesnut Street (above the Grebble Store), Philadelphia, PA.

Willis G. Hale, Architect. Carol Eaton (Seminar in 19th century Architecture, Univeristy of Pennsylvania)

Commerical National Bank, 1886, Chestnut Street and Hudson Street, Philadelphia, PA.

Willis G. Hale, Architect. Carol Eaton (Seminar in 19th century Architecture, Univeristy of Pennsylvania)

Temple Theater, 1886, Chestnut Street between 7th and 8th, Philadelphia, PA.

Willis G. Hale, Architect. Carol Eaton (Seminar in 19th century Architecture, Univeristy of Pennsylvania)

Discussion of the renovation can be found in The Public Ledger of July 5, 1886 and The Public Ledger of February 10, 1888,

Harry Shoch residence, 1888, Norristown, PA.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Office Building, 1889, Broad Street and South Penn Square, Philadelphia, PA. (competition). John F. Betz, client.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Bloomsburg Normal School, 1889, Bloomsburg, PA.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Hotel and Tenement house, 1889, 22nd and Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA. (competition). John M. Sharp, client.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

James Richmond house, pre-1890, N.E. corner of 40th and Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Building, 1890, Bethelehem, PA. George H. Meyers, client.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Carnegie Library, 1891, Pittsburgh, PA. (competition).

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Chamberlain's Hotel (alterations and additions), 1891, Washington D.C.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

2 cottages, 1891, Como, NJ. Charles Jarvis, client.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Park Central Hotel, 1892, Hartford, CT. W.C. Daly, client.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Building for lodge purposes, 1894, 26th and Cumberland Street, Philadelphia, PA.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Hotel, 1895, Atlantic City, NJ.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

132 houses, 1897, 63rd and Lansdowne Avenue, Philadelphia, PA. With H.E. Flower.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Solomon Greenburg residence (alterations and additions), 1899, 1202-1204 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA.

Converted from former residence of George D. Widener to apartment houses.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Trolley Cars, no date, Philadelphia, PA. J.G. Brill Works, client.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Hopkins Estate and stores, no date, Delaware Avenue below Water Street, Philadelphia, PA.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Business block, no date, 32nd above Powelton Avenue, Philadelphia, PA. E. Spencer Miller, client.

Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss (Boston: GK Hall and Co., 1985)

Client Bibliographies
William Miskey Singerly -- "William Miskey Singerly, the son of Joseph Singerly, was born in Philadelphia December 27, 1832. Leaving school in 1850, he went into busniess. He entered the management of the Germantown Passenger Railway in 1816, in which he father was a large stockholder. Toward the end of his father's life, William had virtual fianacial control of the railroad. In 1872, he established the "Record Farms" at his century house in Whitpain at Franklinville Gwynedd Station for the purpose of studying advanced horticultural techniques and stock breeding. On June 1, 1877, Singerly gained control of the Philadelphia Record newspaper. He invested in 75 acres of land in Philadelphia's 28th ward where he undertook a real estate development in the late 1880's that involved at first the erection of 800 dwelling units: a number that was intended to increase eventually to 1500. In 1885 he bought that Old Masonic Hall on Chestnut Street which he converted into the Temple Theater and Egyptian Musee. Singerly invested as well in a knitting mill at 8th and Dauphin Streets in Philadelphia and in a gleaner and binder factory at Norristown, Pennsylvania." James Foss, Willis Gaylord Hale and Philadelphia's Rebellion of the Picturesque: 1880-1890. Masters Thesis, Penn State University, 1964. From William Singerly, A Biographical Album of Prominent Pennsylvanians -- First Series (Philadelphia, 1888), 371-378.
William Weightman -- "William Weightman, chemical manufacturer and, by the early '90s, one of the largest holders of Philadelphia real estate, was born in Waltham, Lincolnshire, on September 30, 1813. He arrived in the U.S. at the age of 16 (1829) on the suggestion of his uncle, the chemist John Farr, founder of the firm of Farr and Kunzi, the first manufacturers of sulphate of quinine in this country. Kunzi retired in 1836, giving Farr the chance to take into partnership Thomas Powers and his nephew and establish the firm of Farr, Powers and Weightman, manufacturing chemists. When Farr dies in 1847, the business became Powers and Weightman, chemical manufacturers. Weightman was repsonsible for the first introduction of quinine into this country and amassed a large fortune through shrewed investments, derived from his manufacturing enterprise.... He died in Philadelphia at the age of 91 on August 25, 1904." James Foss. Willis Gaylord Hale and Philadelphia's Rebellion of the Picturesque: 1880-1890. Masters Thesis, Penn State University, 1964. From Philadelphia - A History of the City and Its People. Ellis Paxson Oberholtzer (Philadelphia, 1911).
Angus Wade --